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Palms, alms and the man

Burrabazar-Brabourne Road crossing, April 11, 2005

Metro had spotted home guards stopping small commercial vehicles in the bustle of Burrabazar. The following day, walkie-talkie-toting plainclothesmen were caught in the act. The bribe-taking process was as smooth as the traffic was chaotic. A home guard was suspended, but not the practice.

Burrabazar-Brabourne Road crossing, June 21

More than a year later, on the longest day of 2006, the long arm of the law was seen reaching out to every passing thela and van. A plainclothesman was busy grabbing whatever came his way, in cash or coin. The bribe amount: Rs 5 to Rs 50. 'A policeman stands at the crossing and every passing vehicle has to pay its way through,' said a van-puller.

Who's the bribe-taker'

There are eight to 10 special constables in each police station. Their job is to mingle and collect information. 'In areas like Burrabazar, Posta and Shyambazar, these special constables collect bribes, especially from cycle-van drivers. This is an open secret and senior officers are well aware of it,' said an officer of Burrabazar police station. On any given day, a special constable at the crossing pockets Rs 300 to Rs 400. At the end of the day, they gang up and divide the loot. 'But every month, they have to gift something to their seniors,' added the officer.

Officialspeak

Amiya Kumar Lahiri, officer-in-charge, Burrabazar thana: 'As far as I know, special constables are not involved in such a practice. But some constables of the traffic guard do take bribes from these cycle-van drivers. There are also some constables posted at other police stations but staying on at the Burrabazar barracks who pocket bribes.'

CMspeak

This (bribe-taking) is nothing new. But since some specific spots have been mentioned (in Metro), I have asked them (his force) to find out,' said Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, home (police) minister.

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